View of Raasay from Applecross Peninsula - © Leticia Rodriguez
Have you ever visited the west coast of Scotland? Do you long for rugged mountains, ocean vistas and abundant wildlife? The Applecross peninsula offers all of that and more.
Situated as the crow flies 95km to the west of Inverness, it is not the easiest part of The Highlands to access. From the south the only road takes you over the alpine Bealach na Ba pass to a height of 626m, from which the views of Raasay and Skye are fantastic on a clear day. The upside of course is relatively quiet roads, and it’s easy to go hours without seeing another person.
A Vibrant Flora
Heather (Calluna vulgaris) - © James Richardson
Much of the peninsula is heavily grazed by red deer or sheep, but where the grazing is less intense, blankets of pink and purple cover the boggy land in late summer. Two types of heather, the light pink common heather Calluna vulgaris and the darker bell heather Erica cinerea are a favourite of late flying bees. On wetter ground, devil’s bit scabious Succisa pratensis adds a splash of purple, contrasting with the ubiquitous yellow flowers of tormentil Potentilla erecta. Further south in Scotland and England devil’s bit scabious is the main larval food plant of the rare marsh fritillary butterfly Euphydryas aurinia.
Abundant Marine Life
Phoca vitulina (Common Seals) - © Leticia Rodriguez
Look closely at isolated rocks in the many bays an inlets of the peninsula and you may spot seals. There are two species of seal found regularly in the UK; grey and common, and those pictured are the latter. Their common names are however misleading, as in the UK there are roughly half as many common seals than grey seals.
A Haven for Seabirds
Sterocarius skua (Great skua) - © Leticia Rodriguez
The bird life of the peninsula includes some species with an astonishing natural history. Of the world’s migratory bird species, none covers a greater distance during an average lifetime than the Arctic tern Sterna paradisaea. Every year, these birds migrate to the UK to breed before departing in late summer for the Antarctic; experiencing two summers per year. This is an average annual round trip of nearly 90,000km and is the longest migration of any animal on earth. Over a 30 year lifespan the birds can cover 2.4million km – the equivalent of flying to the moon and back three times.
Sterna paradisaea (Arctic tern) - © Leticia Rodriguez
In both hemispheres the terns must negotiate the attention of large predatory seabirds known as skuas. In northern Scotland the great skua Sterocarius skua or ‘bonxie’ is the largest species. Aggressive and agile in flight, it robs even larger seabirds such as gannets of their food and is even capable of drowning and killing the similarly potent great black backed gull Larus marinus.
Cervus elaphus (Red Deer) - © James Richardson
Red deer Cervus elaphus aren’t particularly difficult to see in Scotland and were easy to see on the peninsula. With a Scottish population of around 380,000 their numbers have increased rapidly since the 1960s. This often leads to a lack of food, particularly in winter. Coupled with the harsh Scottish climate, this means Scottish stags can be half the weight of those in Exmoor or the New Forest; nonetheless they still provide charismatic subjects for photography.
The Applecross peninsula is essentially a microcosm of the Scottish Highlands. The alpine pass from the south may well be treacherous in winter, but the abundant wildlife, stunning views, warm welcome of the locals and a pint of the local Caledonian ale make the journey totally worthwhile.
Written by James Richardson